Friday, December 30, 2011

The Geezer Bandit: Back for More

Real Geezer or Real Silicone? The question on everyone's mind.

I've noticed a significant uptick in pageloads for the post I did on the Geezer Bandit several months ago. I'm suddenly getting a lot of hits from Europe, not unusual in itself but this is the first time I've had a lot of foreign activity on the Geezer interview. I figured something must have happened in the news to trigger these hits, and sure enough the Geezer has hit three more banks since my post. For some reason the story has gotten a lot of play in the European press.
The week before Christmas authorities released a security tape of a man they say is the Geezer Bandit leaving a Bank of America branch in San Luis Obispo, California. The dye pack that the teller slipped him along with the money explodes in the parking lot. You can see the Geezer trying to recover some of his stuff before he hightails it out of there. This happened on December 2. It was the Geezer's last bank far anyway. Presumably he is recovering from the burns he got from the explosion and busy scrubbing the red dye off his skin, which could take weeks.
According to authorities the video further demonstrates that the Geezer Bandit may not be a geezer at all, but rather a much younger person, one capable of sprinting through a parking lot without a cane or a motorized scooter. They are now canvassing all the latex mask makers in the southern California area looking for their customers who may have purchased a mask called 'The Elder'.
All this is very discouraging to me because I have been following the Geezer's career with an eye to developing a 'Plan B' for my forced retirement. Let's face it, it's hard to make ends meet when the end of the income stream comes way before the end of the expenses. I figured this for the reason the Geezer embarked on a life of crime. Of course I was also thinking that the Geezer was, like me, an actual Geezer. Being a Geezer would explain a lot—everything in fact except the sprinting.
Robbing banks has a lot to recommend it for an elderly person with limited resources. It's easy to do. It doesn't require any special skills beyond a level head and a respectable 'skunk eye', both of which come quite naturally to a person of a certain age. Intimidating young people is fun. Knocking over banks seems an awful lot like justice. Getting caught is just like icing on the cake—free room and board, free medical care, a built-in excuse to get out of every disagreeable social and familial obligation for years to come, and, perhaps most important, even in prison no one wants to have sex with an old guy. This is all way better than my current retirement plan, and not least because no shifty Wall Street derivatives trader is likely to take it away from me.
Now I'm left wondering if all this is just a pipe dream. I mean, if the Geezer's a young guy with broken-field running ability and a latex mask, maybe this scheme is going to be harder than I originally thought. There are unforeseen (by me at any rate) barriers to entry. First off, the 'Elder' mask that the FBI thinks the bandit is using is listed on eBay at$1,799.99, buy it now. Second, a 9 millimeter Glock will set you back about $450, depending. I don't know how much ammo costs, but realistically you probably don't need any. Other supplies—day planner, paper sack, pad of paper and pencil for note writing—are going to set you back another $20-30. The fact is that I can't afford to get into a life of crime unless I get a job first. Well...that just sucks.
Then of course there's the sprinting. I can't do sprinting anymore. I can't even walk fast enough to please my dogs. You can ask them. They spend an incredible amount of time on our walks turning around to see what's holding me up. Sometimes they have such pained expressions on their faces that I am tempted to drop their leashes and hide in the bushes to spare them any further embarrassment. Sure, they're greyhounds, but really? I feed them. You'd think they'd cut me a little slack.

Exploding money...not unlike the disposition of my former retirement account...thank you very much.

Last is the problem of those pesky dye packs. Dye packs are terrifically effective for banks. They are said to be responsible for the recovery of some $20 million in stolen money and the apprehension of 2,500 bank robbers. Naturally, what's good for the banks is a problem for would be bank robbers. You could say it's an occupational hazard, but I think it's even worse than that. When a dye pack goes off in your paper bag full of loot you get fairly severely burned. Your clothes, your skin, and your money—the money that doesn't get burned up in the explosion—are stained bright red. Permanently. So your plans are foiled, you're marked for life, and you're injured. This just doesn't add up to a very good day at the office. I've had worse, but I'm not working any more. I like to think those days are behind me.
Personally I blame slip-shod customer service. I know the Geezer Bandit asked the teller, 'pretty please', to not slip a dye pack into his sack. He added what you'd think would be sufficient incentive by waving the Glock in her face. She gave it to him anyway. Modern tellers are just like every other person in the retail trades when it comes to executing the customer's wishes, especially if the customer is an elderly person. They can't pay attention long enough to get the simplest requests right. Most of us have just given up expecting what we asked for first time around. Who doesn't check inside the bag before they leave the drive-up window at McDonalds? No one is who. We all know better.
Not so easy for the Geezer Bandit though. The dye packs are disguised to look like regular money. In fact they are regular money—mostly. The receiver, trigger, dye and explosives are concealed in a stack of real currency. The banks don't mind blowing up a thousand dollars worth of twenties to stop a felon in his tracks. They've got plenty more where that came from. They get it out of their bailout funds, or take it from the rest of us in the form of new 'fees'. Sure.
Long story short, the Geezer couldn't just open his bag and look to see if the teller got his order right. He was in a hurry after all. He had places to be. He had to depend on the teller to be just a little bit brighter than your average counter help. He had to depend on the same level of customer service that he'd come to expect from Bank of America. Oh wait...Bank of America you say? Never mind.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Ironic and the Furious: What I Want for Christmas

the President's offending 'holiday' greeting. mostly the GOP yawned. 

Two days ago put up a post about the Republican reaction to the 2011 White House Christmas card. The headline read, 'Republicans Are Furious About Obama's Christmas Card? Wait Till They See Reagan's'. Those who thought to comment were mostly incensed that conservative pundits, GOP luminaries, and Tea Party Hacks were so petty that they would actually be furious about something as innocuous as a greeting card. What seemed to escape many of those commenting is the irony of being themselves so petty that they would get incensed over something that didn't really happen.
According to the article the only Republican who expressed any reservations about the card was Sarah Palin. She made her comments on Fox Radio. What she said was that she found it 'odd' that the President's Christmas card would highlight the family dog rather than traditional Christmas values like 'family, faith, and freedom'. Palin was clearly not furious. She was not even very least not compared to her usual standards. MoveOn's headline, in other words, was inflammatory, divisive, and untrue—the very charges that so many leveled against the GOP leadership, who apparently remain blissfully unaware that they are embroiled in a flap.
Personally I don't think that Christmas is a very good time to be sowing the seeds of hate and recrimination. I know that both sides do it, but the fact is that there are a lot of Democrats who think that only Republicans are capable of this kind of duplicity. Clearly this is not the case, and clearly many liberal believers are ready to be seduced into making the same kinds of unthinking blanket indictments of which they accuse the conservatives. I'm not letting conservatives off the hook here. They are not only just as guilty of this kind of flimflammery, they practically invented it.
Wouldn't it be great if we could get back to actually discussing real issues with logic and civility? Wouldn't it be useful if politicians and hacks would lay out their positions so that we voters could make informed decisions from a substantive array of facts? Wouldn't it be interesting if the media would delve into the meat of differing political positions instead of focusing on who changed their mind about what or who had a bad hair day or who left Jesus off their Christmas card? Wouldn't it be a 'Wonderful Life', if politics could actually make a difference?
That's what I want from Santa—a great big bag of political relevance. We could all use a little. Even a little would be a sea change...but oh, so welcome. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gangsta Whips

I have gangstas (well gangsta wannabes) for neighbors. They installed a new speaker system in one of their big wheel whips today. When they tested it, the dogs went wild, the windows rattled, the walls shook, and the drop lights commenced to swinging. I'm trying to recoup my losses by selling these guys pictures of their rides. Samples below:

I figure when you spring for rims like these you're prolly 'all in.' It lightens the load in your wallet, making your pants easier to hold up, which of course you have to do continuously since the belt line is properly worn below your crotch so that the too-long cuffs pool luxuriously around your Lugz making it all but impossible to run away from the police.

I call this one Luna-Cee because, well, wouldn't you?

None of these guys seem to have any money, but as soon as they get some they are going to spend it on something ridiculous. Maybe on pants that don't fit. Maybe on illicit pharmaceuticals. Maybe on 9 millimeter Glocks. And maybe they'll just take it down to the local 'gentlemen's club and stuff it into some lucky dancer's garter. But maybe, just maybe, they'll spend some of it on funky pictures of their cars. I can only hope.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to Work...well...sort of

I've been working on the above graphic for two weeks now, including the intervening holiday. It remains a failed piece by my estimation, and I'm hard-pressed to come up with a way to fix it. I feel as if I have an excuse, but I'm still waiting for a solution to suggest itself in due course. My excuse is that I've been working nights, and when I get home in the morning I'm too tired to marshal my creative juices. I want to make this graphic zing with the same presence as the Auburn Speedster I did a few weeks ago, but a few weeks ago I had a lot more energy for the process.
Now before you get excited about me going back to work, I have to point out that I have not landed a job. I am still un-gainfully unemployed and seemingly without prospects. What I am doing is working in my dreams. I have worked in my dreams before - in fact while I was still working in my waking life - and, while it's never been a pleasant experience, neither has it ever been as stressful and debilitating as this current little spate of projects. The problem with my current dream set is that I'm working for the worst boss I ever had (Richard Hardin) and I'm saddled with the sorriest excuse for a manager I ever met (Fische) to collaborate on a series of meaningless projects.
I sweat through every night with incomplete information, inadequate instructions, impossible deadlines, and fear of reprisal. In the end I know that we will fail to meet expectations, and I know that Fische will dip me in the grease for it. It is just like being back at work, only without a paycheck or health insurance to soothe the sting of the sundry abuses.
The only difference that I can see is that when I was working I dreaded waking up from fitful dreams to face an unpleasant reality, but now I welcome my new reality with open arms. Unpleasant as my new reality may be, it is not nearly so sinister as the memories that await in sleep. Personally I think there ought to be a way to hold asshats accountable for invading your dreams. I mean how fair is it that an unmitigated douche canoe like Fische should be able to crowd Kelly Ripa out of my dream life?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Graphical Interlude.

For your enjoyment - and mine - taking a little break from the politics to create something entirely different.

first this classic 50s model Cadillac convertible done up in vintage style.


and this pristine Auburn Speedster, sharing design cues and heritage with Duesenberg and Cord. Auburn stopped production in 1937, but designs and parts inventory were bought by Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg enthusiast Glenn Pray in the early 60s. In 1966 Pray began design work and tooling to begin production of a second generation Boattail Speedster based on the 1935 model 851 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

2nd Generation Auburn Boattail Speedster

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Conversations with Bean: Dogging Healthcare

We've had our greyhound, Bean, for a year now. Every day he grows in wisdom and grace. He is a good dog, eager to please and eager to learn. We have begun to engage one another in conversation with some frequency. He seems to enjoy our little talks, and I find, as his powers of observation grow, so do I. Here is another recent exchange.

BEAN: You remember when you took me to the Vet last week?
ME: Yes. Sorry. It was time for your annual shots.
BEAN: Oh, I don't mind going to the Vet. I mean once they took my nuts, I figured it couldn't get any worse.
ME: Not my fault, Buddy. They did that before I got you.
BEAN: Yeah, I know. Still it seems like a cruel fate. You don't have any idea what's about to happen. They give you a lovely nap, and when you wake up you're carrying an empty sack around. It's embarrassing. I'm mostly over it now, but every once in a while, when I think about it, it gets my back up. You might want to reconsider sleeping in the know, for your own safety. I'm just sayin'.
ME: Yeah. Okay. Thanks for the warning. We were talking about the Vet.
BEAN: Yeah. What I was wondering is, how come it's so much cheaper for me to go to the Vet than it is for you to go to the Doctor?
ME: I don't know, Bean. I haven't thought about it much.
BEAN: It's not like the Doctor is smarter than the Vet. In fact it's probably the opposite. The Doctor only needs to know how to fix people. The Vet has to know how to fix dogs, cats, hamsters, boa constrictors, guinea hens, cows, horses, giraffes, and hippopotami—just to name a few.
ME: You make a good point.
BEAN: So what's the difference then? Are people more valuable than dogs?
ME: I don't think anyone I know would make an argument like that.
BEAN: Me either. Clearly that would be ludicrous. So what is the difference then?
ME: Well I think it might be the insurance companies. Insurance companies are in charge of most of the healthcare system for people. They decide who gets covered and how much it costs to get covered on the one side, then, on the other side, they determine who gets paid, what services get paid for, and, to a large extent, how much gets paid. They have a significant say in every aspect of the money flow for healthcare in humans, but very little say about healthcare for animals.
BEAN: So you think insurance companies have bid up the cost of healthcare for humans?
ME: I don't know. It's very complicated. If you think about it though, the insurance companies are handling all the money and taking a piece of the action on everything, so the more healthcare costs, they more money they will make. They really don't have a vested interest in keeping medical costs down - only their own costs. They keep their own costs down by limiting coverage to people who are not likely to get sick and then denying the claims of the people they do cover.
BEAN: Sounds to me like you guys need to get the insurance companies out of healthcare.
ME: Maybe so, but that's way easier said than done.
BEAN: Why's that?
ME: Well for one thing, the insurance companies have a lot of money left over from collecting big premiums, limiting coverage, and denying claims. They use that money to make campaign contributions and to pay lobbyists in Washington to make sure that no one in Congress messes with the system. They pay good money, in other words, to keep things as they are.
BEAN: And people put up with this nonsense?
ME: So it would seem.
BEAN: I think someone needs to take this system out on the back porch and chew it up like a rawhide bone.
ME: As usual, you make a lot of sense, my friend.
BEAN: Yeah, and meanwhile you ought to consider just getting your work done at the Vet.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dithering on Hard Choices

I've been putting off this post for a long time. I've never claimed to be other than a devout Roman Catholic and adamantly pro-life, but I haven't had a lot to say in this blog, or in any other forum for that matter, about abortion. It is a divisive, emotional, and controversial issue. It takes a certain amount of courage to speak out on it because doing so is sure to result in some heated disagreement if not outright vitriol.
I prefer to avoid confrontation as a rule, so when mommy bloggers that I follow post, for example, that they are sick to death of fat, middle-aged, white, Republican men trying to misappropriate moral choices that ought to be the sole purview of women, I hold my tongue. I do this because 1) I don't want to offend the sensibilities of otherwise smart and funny women on the basis of my disagreement with them on one issue, and 2) being a fat, middle-aged, white, Republican man I am already seen to lack any credible moral standing on, not just this, but many issues facing women.
Now that I'm changing my stripes, so to speak, by championing the Democrats' more 'touchy feely' approach to economic policy I find I have to confront the Democrats' decidedly non 'touchy feely' stand on abortion. I may not be a Republican any more, but neither am I a Democrat. Without the relative harmonic safety of one camp or the other, I find I need to 'nut up' and explain myself more fully. Likely this won't be any easier to read than it was to write.

Life in the Balance

I like to say that I used to be a Voldemort Republican. That's not strictly true. I've been a one-issue Republican voter for as long as I care to remember. That one issue is life. The other issues that constitute true ideological Republicanism are not so dear to me. I go back and forth on some of them. I'm just plain opposed to others. Lately I've abandoned supply side economic theory because I have come to believe that it has been a spectacular failure, even though it remains bedrock Republican economic policy. I used to buy it, but I don't any longer. This is why I call myself a former Voldemort Republican.
I've not changed my mind about abortion though. I still vote a pro-life ticket. It's not that I don't care about other issues. I do, but for me the issue of life takes precedence. For me it's been the most important issue when it comes to my vote. If you are wrong on the issue of life, nothing else really matters. It is the last purely moral issue on the table. Everything else is political or economic or both, but the issue of life is central to our humanity.
If you want to vote pro-life, you pretty much have to vote Republican. I don't really understand why this is. It doesn't make sense to me that the Republicans are pro on life and Democrats are pro on choice. I would think it would be the opposite, especially when you consider that, on the other major life issue, capital punishment, the Republicans want to kill you and the Democrats want to rehabilitate you and turn you loose. It's as if, at least as far as the political parties are concerned, it was all a matter of timing. The Republicans want to kill you after you're born, and the Democrats want to kill you before. I don't get it.
You would think that the GOP, the party of individual rights and curtailing government involvement in matters of morality, would be pro-choice. When I hear the pro-choice argument that government shouldn't be telling women what to do with their bodies, and that the decision to have or not have a child is a matter to be decided by the family and not the state, I think that sounds just Republican as hell. And yet the Republicans are happy to interpose government in your moral choices when there is a baby involved, but only, it would seem, before the baby is able to make demands of its own on various entitlement programs.
After you're born, it's an entirely different matter for Republicans. After you're born, Republicans are not so much pro-life as they are pro-keeping-what's-theirs. Once you're weaned from mother's milk and start suckling at the public teat, your life is suddenly not worth so much. You fail the Republican cost benefit analysis. This is why Republicans love capital punishment so much. It puts an end to your state paid support. They want to cut the cost and get you in the ground before you bankrupt the system.
They feel the same way about a lot of entitlements that are meant to keep body and soul together. They don't want to pay for your social welfare or your health care or your food stamps. They don't want to pay unemployment benefits. They just want you to either get a job and pay your own way or go away quietly and die. And no, they're not going to spend any money to create jobs either. That's your lookout. If you want to work, work. It's just that simple. There's not a lot of logic or consistency at work in Republican principles, and for the GOP, what claims to be pro-life, isn't. Not really. I don't know what it is, but it's certainly not consistently about life.
On the other hand, you would think that Democrats, who have traditionally been associated with grand social engineering to lift the oppressed masses out of poverty and affliction and servitude would be in favor of protecting the most disenfranchised of humanity—the unborn. Democrats have always been about legislating the right thing to do, and so they are historically and philosophically associated with The New Deal, The War on Poverty, Affirmative Action, Medicare, Civil Rights, Head Start, The National Endowment for the Arts, Consumer Protection, The Clean Air Act, and others. This being the case, one has to wonder why they keep pushing to expand a woman's right to impose her choice over the rights of her own unborn child to life, liberty and the other guarantees of our Constitution.
Democrats love killing babies—so much so that they don't want people thinking about it much before they get abortions. They are against counseling, they are against educating young women about alternatives, they are against involving families in the decision, and they are against waiting.
They are not against waiting when you've already waited too long though. If you've been dithering about getting an abortion into the third trimester, when fetuses are viable and abortions are not for the squeamish, then they think you should be able to have something called a 'partial birth abortion', a procedure so draconian it can scarcely be discussed in polite company.
In a partial birth abortion, labor is induced, and the baby is allowed to start its trip toward the light at the end of the tunnel. It's not allowed to complete its journey though. Once the tike crowns, it's little skull is pierced with a surgical spike, and its brains are vacuumed into a jar. Then the rest of its now lifeless body is allowed to pass into the world where Democrats will applaud its mother's pluck, and, if she's poor enough, pay for the procedure.
Democrats are actually okay with this. It's the mother's body, they say, and so it's the mother's decision. I would argue that, at the very least, it ceased to be about the mother's body when the baby crowned. In fact I would argue that it ceased to be about the mother's body long before that. I know that, officially at least, the jury's still out on this, but I believe it stops being about the mother's body at the moment of conception. I don't think I'm alone in this. Even Democrats agree...sort of.
Here's where the Democrats are as inconsistent and illogical as Republicans. It's about the woman's body when they're talking about abortion, but if an expectant mother smokes crack, or snorts cocaine, or drinks, or smokes, or abuses prescription medications, then it becomes all about the baby. Democrats don't want you doing anything that might injure your unborn child, unless of course you want to have it killed. Then suddenly it's all about women's rights, and the baby be damned. Oh...and they want the Republicans to agree to pay for it too.
It seems to me that the political parties have got it backwards. If they would just switch positions on abortion, I would have a much easier time embracing the social justice championed by the Democrats over the inequities fostered by the Republicans' dogged insistence on supply side and trickle down economic policies. As it is I have to continue to vote a pro-life Republican ticket because babies can't vote for themselves. I have to continue doing this even though I am certain, way down deep in my analytical accountant's soul, that the Republicans are wrong on just about every other important social and economic issue. I'd certainly feel a lot better about my choices if the choice was clear and consistent on choice.
And here's a final irony—as if choosing weren't difficult enough already. The current state of the economy is putting more and more pressure on women to have abortions. Sure, we're supposed to be in a recovery, but nobody is putting Americans back to work. There are 14 million jobless Americans on the unemployment rolls. There are probably another 11 to 12 million people who are off the official rolls or seriously underemployed. The Republicans don't want the Democrats to solve this problem. They want everyone to wait until 2013, when they hope we will have a Republican administration that can save us all from the Democrats' profligate spending.
Meanwhile, for the millions of jobless and uninsured, having a baby is a bankruptcy event. From a purely fiscal perspective - the favorite perspective of your quintessential pro-life Republican - abortion begins to look like a sensible choice. This may be an unintended result, but that doesn't make it any less real. Any policy that prolongs joblessness fosters abortion. Any policy that increases poverty increases the abortion rate. Any policy that denies basic subsistence and health service options to those who need them most denies life to the unborn. An increase in abortions may be against Republican principles, but it is at least consistent with Republican economic policy. The last thirty years of economic history proves this.
Republicans will argue that the key to economic recovery rests in unfettering the private sector from the burdens of regulation and taxation. Our problem, they say, is big government and runaway spending eating away at the incentives of business to succeed. If we would just reduce taxes on the wealthy and on corporations and loosen the regulatory noose we would see marked and immediate gains in productivity, employment, and prosperity, and these gains would benefit everybody. You've no doubt heard this mantra before. It is currently being touted by virtually every Republican candidate for the presidency. They only vary among themselves in how much they want to give to the wealthy in order to fuel this dramatic turn of fortune. I have to wonder how they can possible hold on to this supply side pipe dream that has been a virtual non-starter since the Reagan years.
If any of this stuff was going to work, it would have worked by now. It hasn't. We haven't had thirty years of unparalleled prosperity. We have had thirty years of consistently lowering taxes on the richest Americans. We have had thirty years of significant erosion of regulations that were originally put in place to protect us from boom, bust, and bailout cycles. We have had, in other words, pretty much full realization of the Republican supply side initiative without any realization of its promises.
Instead of prosperity we got ever more volatile bubbles, followed by ever steeper declines and ever more expensive public fixes. Instead of investment in innovation and jobs growth we got richer rich and poorer poor. The rich didn't invest in America as promised. They invested instead in a status quo designed to keep them at the top of the food chain. They did not risk their capital seeking gain. They used their gains to eliminate their risk. Whenever they made mistakes, which was often, they relied on poor and middle-class taxpayers to backstop their plays. In the words of Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, we got the privatization of gains and the socialization of losses.
Today the rich are richer than they've ever been. Corporations are booking record profits and are sitting on unprecedented amounts of cash. Even so they are not investing in new technologies and they are not hiring Americans. They are not doing any of the things that supply side theory tells us they are supposed to be doing with their money. And yet, almost unbelievably, the Republican solution is to lower taxes even more on the wealthy and on corporations, and to further emasculate the regulations that are meant to protect the vanishing wealth of the rest of us.
This doesn't make any sense to me at all. It defies logic, and yet you cannot turn on a television or radio or open a newspaper or log onto the Internet without hearing this trickle down claptrap trotted out as gospel. Even people who stand to lose the most believe it. People who will have their retirement funds looted by Wall Street pirates, people who will have their taxes increased to pay for yet another round of million dollar bonuses for a bunch of executives who missed the forest for the trees, people whose dreams are being snuffed out by the very people they look to for salvation, still believe with passion that supply side theory is the answer to all our prayers. Prosperity may not trickle down but irony certainly does, and that may be the great tragedy of American politics.
So this is my dilemma. I vote against abortion by voting for Republicans, but the result of Republicans winning elections is an economy that continues to spiral out of control, and the result of that is more abortions, not less. Of course the Republicans can always legislate against abortion, but then there would just be a lot more babies that those same Republicans are going to legislate against feeding, housing, medicating, and employing. It's a quandary.
The Republicans have done a pretty good job of killing the American dream. Even though they are philosophically pro-life, they are now almost as good as the Democrats at killing babies. The Democrats and Republicans need to switch sides on abortion. That way at least my vote can be consistent with my own beliefs. It may not accomplish anything in the grand scheme of things, but at least it will make sense to me.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dissecting the 'We Are Wall Street' Letter: the most fun you can have in reading glasses

New York Stock Exchange - iconic Wall Street ready to fight back.

 Some of you will have seen this letter. It's been circulating around Facebook for a few days now, proudly touted by those who still buy into the whacky premise of supply side economics as a beautiful rejoinder to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Let's analyze it piece by piece, and see just how beautiful it is. (Original text in blue. My comments in black.)

  • We are Wall Street. It's our job to make money. Whether it's a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn't matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. This much at least is not problematic. Given the timbre of the rest of the letter, the writer is certainly arrogant enough to represent the excesses of Wall Street that we've all grown to despise.
  • I didn't hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone's 401k doubled every 3 years. Just like gambling, its [sic] not a problem until you lose. I've never heard of anyone going to Gamblers Anonymous because they won too much in Vegas. Also quite true. No one complains when they are winning. The problem here is, of course, that it was just like gambling, except it wasn't supposed to be. No one in their right mind takes their pension fund to Las Vegas. They put it in nice safe diversified mutual funds and money market funds. All the unmitigated risk came from Wall Street. Wall Street took our money to Las Vegas and lost it. Not their money, our money. We didn't give them permission to do it. They didn't ask. But even though they lost our money, they still expected to get their commissions and their fat bonuses. And it gets worse because they didn't just lose our money, they set us up to lose our money and then bet against us. They sold securitized mortgage paper that they knew was crap to our pension funds, lied about how crappy it was, and then invested themselves in short positions on the same crap so that the more money we lost, the more money they made. The biggest and most respected Wall Street firms were found guilty of this kind of fraud. They paid substantial fines and penalties for it—not so substantial that it has slowed them down any, but hundreds of millions of dollars. No one went to jail though. A lot of us Joe Mainstreets think someone should have gone to jail. God knows we would have had we sunk to this level of criminality.
  • Well now the market crapped out, and even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joes are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are. Scapegoat, my ass. If the shoe fits, bud.
  • Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you're only going to hurt yourselves. What's going to happen when we can't find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We're going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We're used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don't take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don't demand a union. We don't retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we'll eat that. Most of us in the 99% work long hours too—at least those of us who still have jobs. Good luck taking jobs away from the 14 million of us who don't have one to take, or the 11 million additional displaced workers who have been forced into early retirement, have fallen off the unemployment rolls, or are underemployed. We don't retire at 50 with a pension either. In fact many of us will be lucky to be able to retire at all after what you bozos have done to our savings. You don't eat what you kill. You kill for sport. You work until 10 at night because your whole life is about racking up points. You don't have friends except at work. Your family plays second fiddle to your job. You come after my plate and you're not going to find the filet steaks and coquilles St. Jacques that you are used to. You are going to find rice and beans. If you try to take it away from me, you are going to end up eating broth and jello at the hospital.
  • For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? Well, yes I do think you are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and landscaping. I've done both and I've also been a CPA and worked as an accounting executive. I'd rather do accounting. It's easier. It's not as easy as trading hypothetical pieces of fake paper, but it's not nearly so hard as managing a classroom full of eight-year-olds or trying to get rid of a spider mite infestation on a variegated dracaena marginata without killing the plant...or yourself.

    Trading floor of the NYSE where Wall Street is busy saving America from its elementary school teachers.

  • We're going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I'll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much. Wait...what? Cushy? 4 months off? Double time and a half? $5,000 for running a baseball practice? What planet do you live on?
  • So now that we're going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we're going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren't going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We're going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours. Wait...what...again? $85k? Same question with respect to your planet of residence. I drive a 2003 PT Cruiser, which I wash in the driveway with a garden hose. I tip 20-25% when I eat out because that's as much as I can afford. I didn't stop tipping or cut my tipping down when I lost my job because, unlike you, I am not a prick. And here's another thing. Since you make your money off of mine, when my money dries up, so does yours. It doesn't actually work the other way, much as you might wish us to believe that it does.
  • The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it's really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat a**es land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom. We lived off the money we worked for. You rejoiced in the money you scammed us out of. What's more the Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee are not going to knock you off the top of the pyramid. You guys paid to put them in office. They are probably going to leave things as they are unless the Occupy Wall Street movement gains so much momentum that they have to sit up and take notice. Where do you think the $2 trillion in bailout and economic stimulus money went? It went to Wall Street. It paid your fat bonus. Conservative pundits are clamoring about Obama's spending spree, but most of the money went right to the top of the pyramid where it stayed. It didn't go to hiring teachers back or putting America back to work. It went into the coffers of asshats and pirates who used some of it to lobby against financial reform and the kind of common sense regulations that would prevent another bubble, bust, and bailout cycle. Obama is your friend. He may not be as good a friend as, say, Rick Perry, but he's done everything you required to maintain the status quo.
  • We aren't dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Mainstreet our food supply...will he? And will they? Honestly, I don't even know what this means. I think possibly your last hit of cocaine kicked in somewhere in the middle of the paragraph above this one. In fact this whole missive is so disjointed and misinformed that I have decided, arrogant or not, you are not Wall Street at all. You don't know enough about how finance and economics actually work to have ever done time selling securities, vetting market analysis, or timing trends. You are an ignoramus, and you are not taking anything away from me. Besides, someone way smarter than you has already got most of it. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Steaming Pile by Any Other Name: Horse and Sparrow Economics

For several weeks now, I have been Tweeting and Facebooking the hell out of something called 'horse and sparrow economic theory' because it is at once so evocative and so descriptive of the bill of goods that has been supply side policy since the Reagan administration. 'Supply side economics' was a term adopted to replace what was, at the time, the more pejorative term, 'trickle down economics'. In either case, the theory was that if you cut taxes for the wealthy they would have more money to save, and part of that savings would be invested in new technology and new productive capacity, which would create new jobs and lift the economy as a whole. In other words a little governmental largess for the wealthiest Americans would eventually trickle down to benefit everyone.
For a while it seemed to work that way. Reagan had inherited an economy that wasn't just stagnant, it was also inflationary. They called it 'stagflation', and while there were lots of theories as to what caused it at the time, it was doggedly resistant to any measures adopted to get out of it. Reagan's solution was across-the-board income tax cuts coupled with a massive increase in defense spending. The math didn't work of course, and Reagan's budget director, David Stockton, got into trouble for saying as much in an interview with Vanity Fair at the time.
Reaganomics, as it came to be called in the press, relied on something called the Laffer Curve to sell the plan. What the Laffer Curve purported to show was that if you lowered tax rates, total tax revenue would actually go up because the taxes saved by individuals and businesses would lead to higher income through investments and thus higher absolute taxes although at a lower rate. This turned out not to be true, and Reagan suddenly had a revenue problem. His spending was going through the roof even though he touted spending cuts, and his tax receipts were taking a nose dive. Turns out you can't arm a nation to the teeth without spending money, and arms to protect us from Soviet missiles that didn't fly straight cost a lot more than food for the poor.
Alan Greenspan, tapped by Reagan to chair a bipartisan commission to fix Social Security, instead fixed Reagan's revenue problem with subterfuge. Purporting to put Social Security back on sound financial footing, he raised Social Security taxes. The additional tax revenues filled federal coffers by effectively reversing Reagan's income tax cuts for middle and lower income wage earners. This was a huge regressive shift in the total tax burden—lightening the load for the rich and increasing the burden for the poor.
Reagan was happy to borrow the Social Security receipts to fund the arms race. He got the Soviets to spend themselves into the poor house, but the apparently serendipitous collapse of the Soviet Union may have created as many problems as it solved. Reagan once famously called the accounting sleight of hand 'revenue enhancement'. For the middle class taxpayers upon whom the burden fell, Reagan's use of the term 'enhanced' is the moral equivalent of using 'enhanced interrogation techniques' to describe torture.
Eventually stagflation went away. Supply side advocates like to point to Reagan's apparent success to sell 'enhanced' trickle down policies today. I would argue that since Reagan actually raised taxes, increased spending, and more than doubled the deficit, supply side philosophy had little to do with the improved economy. A much better case could be made for increased spending as the best way to kick-start a stalled economy.
This is just too Keynesian to be embraced by conservatives though. They are all still firm believers in the supply side formula, even though it has never really worked...not even for Ronald Reagan who is its patron saint. After thirty years, the legacy of supply side policy-making is clearly bubbles, busts, and bailouts. It is time to go back to calling supply side theory by the name it started with—' Horse and Sparrow'. It goes like this: if you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.
When the sparrows get tired of the steady diet of the horse's leavings, we will finally see what 'Angry Birds' really look like.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flatline the Flat Tax

Rick Perry is coming to town with a tired old idea - the flat tax - only it's voluntary. That's right, in an effort to simplify 3 million lines of tax code, Perry has proposed adding another layer of tax rate that you can elect to pay if your taxes computed under the old system add up to more than 20%. How is this simplification? This is an unvarnished tax reduction for the highest bracket taxpayers. 

It's just another way to lessen taxes for those who can most afford to pay, and stick it, yet again, to the middle class.

Just say 'no' to more of the same old trickle down doodoo with a bumper sticker from Aimless Arts.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trickle Down Theory: DooDoo Economics

The latest Aimless Arts Tee - How often do you get to wear doodoo on your shirt and still look smart?

Share this. Tweet this. Take me viral. It's my personal economic recovery plan!

Also, for the more scatologically inclined.

and finally a bumper sticker
if you feel compelled to just say 'nein!' to Herman Cain's tax plan.

Go ahead. Make my day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dumping on the Occupation

 The legion of detractors of the Occupy Wall Street protests are beginning to sound as tedious as some of the activists. Their favorite rejoinder seems to be 'get a job' followed close on by 'take a bath'. Of course neither one is particularly useful when you're speaking of a group of people who are essentially camping in an era of 9.5% unemployment. Those protesting the protests are as clueless as to what the Occupy movement is about as the individual tin-foil hat candidates they love to single out as somehow representative, which of course they are not.
Some of this is the fault of the movement itself, which has deliberately sought to be so leaderless and egalitarian that it has given a voice, however briefly, to all manner of crackpots and scatterbrains, and even listened politely while they rant about whatever is on their minds. The rest is due to the self-appointed and largely self-serving guardians of the status quo who pick out easy targets for the kind of sound bite criticism that sells blog space and air time. These pundits miss the issues at the heart of Occupy Wall Street, and so miss the opportunity to engage in the kind of dialogue that would actually address our myriad of problems.
Raise your hand if you think Occupy Wall Street is a bunch of effete college students who think they should get something for nothing simply because they are too lazy to work for it. Shout out if you believe they are all left-leaning progressives who want to crush business with an endless stream of burdensome taxes and regulations. Stamp your feet if you are convinced that Occupy Wall Street was started by a bunch of elitist college professors to sweep away capitalism and the American way of life and replace it with a New World Order. What a bunch of folderol—honestly!
The irony here is that the protestors camped out in Zuccotti park are angry for the same reasons that the Tea Party is angry. Their future looks hopelessly grim. The self-worth and economic value that were supposed to accrue to them for getting an education and going to work have evaporated. The rewards of innovation and creativity and perseverance and frugality and hard work are no longer assured. The natural order of things has been overturned and replaced by something insidious and grossly unfair. The system now rewards the pirates and charlatans.
The difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party lies, not in why they are mad, but rather in who they are mad at. Occupy Wall Street is mad at the bank executives and speculators who stole our future—the guys who, as Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, has pointed out, created a system to 'socialize losses and privatize gains'. They took huge risks, pocketed the money they made, and got the taxpayers to backstop their play when things went south. You can follow the money and see what they got away with. Their perfidy is well documented and infamous.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, is mad at Barak Obama and the runaway spending of the Democrats. They are mad at everyone who got sucked into an adjustable rate mortgage. They are mad at people with serious illnesses who can't buy medical insurance. Why don't they just die already and quit burdening an already overtaxed system? They are mad at welfare cheats, medicare cheats, layabouts who draw unemployment instead of getting jobs, and anything with the word entitlement in it.
They are mad at these things because Glen Beck told them to be, or Rush Limbaugh, or any one of a number of pandering nabobs who make their money telling people what they want to hear. It hardly matters that the math doesn't work. You can take all the villains of the fundamentalist right and add up the money lost to their villainy and you won't come up to the amount of the problem. That's because the problem is on the other side of the equation—the revenue side—the side where the real cheats live.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Occupies National Stage

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at

 I've been watching the Occupy Wall Street protest in a kind of bemused and detached way since it started. They have yet to look serious or come up with a thoughtful, viable agenda. Their one saving grace up till now has been, in the words of Paul Krugman of the New York Times, that 'they are angry at the right people'.
So I like them—this great unwashed rabble of campers and activists—even though they seem to ricochet from issue to issue like amped up pinballs without understanding anything fully, or even adequately. Why do I like them? Because the enemy of my enemy is my friend. They may not understand what they are doing, but they are down there in the financial district making trouble and impeding traffic and generally pissing off the Wall Street establishment. That's almost enough for me.
Things are beginning to change though. Occupy Wall Street is gathering momentum as a movement, and in no small measure due to the over-reaction of the police sent to maintain order and the screeching condemnations coming from conservative pundits and financial commentators on the usual cable outlets.
The protestors are still largely an unfocused mob with no clear agenda, but their persistence, their omnipresence on social media, and the ridiculous posturing of their detractors have given them an air of legitimacy. Lately, even Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, and President Obama have separately expressed philosophical empathy with the protest, if not in principle, at least with their level of frustration. '...Who can blame them?' Bernanke quipped. Well, seemingly a lot of people can blame them, but most of that blame is apparently going to come from the political right.
Indeed. Bernanke's rhetorical question is doubly curious in that one of the more consistent calls of the protest is for the complete and immediate dismantling of the Federal Reserve Bank. Bernanke will be out of a job if the protestors have their way and, given the timbre of some of the attendant tweets and rally signs coming out of the protests, he just might be tarred, feathered, and carried out of town on a rail in the bargain. Obama's remarks are more obviously self-serving, and that, to my thinking, is as problematic as the condemnations from the right because the protest is and ought to stay apolitical.
The initial Occupy Wall Street narrative went something like this: Wall Street greed and corruption have robbed us of our future. They have tanked the economy, cost millions of jobs, stripped us of the value that used to give us comfort in our homes and our retirement accounts. They have undermined our worth as individuals and as a nation. They have made us less secure, less safe, more vulnerable. When they had brought the whole financial system to the edge of collapse, they reached into our pockets yet again and got us to rescue them from their own folly. Now, while the rest of us are still trying to crawl out of the smoking ruins they left us, they are back to their old tricks, unchastened, unrepentant, and unrelenting in the pursuit of the rest of our happiness. This is a huge injustice that needs to be fixed, and we are going to camp here and raise a ruckus until somebody does something about it.
This is not a political narrative, although many seem tempted to make it one. The Wall Street pirates donate almost equally to both major political parties. There is a reason for this, and the first Occupiers of Wall Street seemed to understand as much.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle share the blame for the paucity of regulation and fiscal licentiousness that got us into this mess. While Democrats are held by Republicans to be the party of profligate spending, the deficit rose most dramatically under Republican administrations. And while Republicans are widely thought to be the party that champions the worst excesses of corporate America, some of the most egregiously enabling deregulation took place under Democrats. Our problems are not rooted in political ideology. They are rooted in a system whose controls were deliberately broken in exchange for political contributions and support made to both parties by what Matt Tabbai of Rolling Stone calls a new Grifter Class.
These thieves are the real enemy, and they have co-opted our democratic processes and our institutions for their own gain. What they do is not just greedy, not just larcenous. It is, in my opinion, treasonous. They have done more damage to this nation than any terrorist organization. They have undermined our strength, weakened our influence, stripped us of our freedom, and all without recourse to any ideological framework. They are not political. They are criminal. They use politics, to be sure, but only as a means to an end. The larger political issues of left versus right, progressive versus conservative, the tensioned balance between individual rights and majority rule mean nothing to them. Their only concern is have or have not.
The Occupy Wall Street protestors think this is wrong. They may be a raucous mob at this point. They may even, as conservative commentator Michelle Malkin has suggested, smell bad. There's no doubt they have expressed some crazy notions, some of them self-contradictory, but this is always a danger when you have deliberately tried to remain leaderless and organically democratic. One could level many of the same criticisms against that other infamous grass-roots protest movement—the Tea Party. Personally I think there is something to like about both groups. They each have legitimate grievances.
The danger is that all this unfocused frustration is easily co-opted by politics. Certainly the Tea Party has come to be identified with a kind of fundamental rebublican libertarianism. Now is busy trying to marshal the energy of the Occupy Wall Street groups. This is a shame, really. There is much to like about the fact that the initial anger of the movement has been directed at real pirates and charlatans. The environment that made the piracy legal was created in Washington by Democrats and Republicans alike. The solutions to the problems are actually quite simple and even fairly well known, but they will have to be addressed with the same kind of bi-partisan co-operation that created them in the first place. Playing us versus them with these movements will just muddy the waters and delay any chance of real reform.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Class Action

When you've got the blues, you need to blow the horn.

 My friend, David Kaa, who blogs at ManWife Chronicles about the trials and tribulations of long-term unemployment received a cease and desist order from an attorney representing his former employer. You can read the details here
It seems that David's employer was upset that he was making disparaging comments about them in his blog and on a video commentary that he put up on YouTube. The lawyer said he had to quit. Not only did the lawyer insist that he quit, but also that he remove the offending posts and dismantle his website. To give legal weight to this demand the lawyer cited a non-compete agreement that David had been required to sign when he was first employed. Also cited was the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
This last seemed a bit over-reaching to me. At issue was the fact that David's video included shots of the employer's office building with its logo displayed prominently on the side. Wait...what?! Displaying a picture taken on a public thoroughfare of a sign on a building is copyright infringement?
David called bullshit on this one, but it turns out that the lawyer is right. You can't do that, at least not for commercial purposes or private financial gain. Neither can Google it would seem, but nobody is making an issue of it with them. David's former company's logo is displayed for all to see on the street view of Google maps. Google presumably has more lawyers than God.
David did take the video down though. Who wants to waste the precious hours of blissful unemployment (no longer working for assholes) fighting with a lawyer? As my hometown pharmacist and soda fountain operator used to say, 'You can wrestle with a turd all day long, but no matter how bad you whup it you're still bound to get a little on you.'
Copyright issues aside, I think the proscription against making disparaging comments is an actionable offense on the part of David's employer, and many others as well. My former employer did it too—not in a non-compete agreement but in the termination letter I was forced to sign in order to get any severance pay. I'm not only prohibited from making disparaging comments in any public forum, I'm also prohibited from acknowledging that any severance agreement even exists. Good luck enforcing that one.
Here's my point. The ability to make disparaging comments is a necessary adjunct to the continuing mental health and well-being of an unemployed individual. This fact is, I think, well established in modern society on another front. For instance people who have just gotten out of bad relationships are allowed, expected, even encouraged, to say all manner of perjorative things about their former significant others. It's part of the healing process. It's an expression of the anger that is one of the five necessary steps in the grieving process.
Nothing more closely parallels a divorce or break-up than losing one's job. The longer you've had the job, the more effort you've invested in the relationship, the harder it is to adjust to being terminated and escorted out of the building like a trespassing derelict. This is a hurtful experience. Anyone who's been through it knows that you need all the healing tools available to weather the turmoil and get your life back on track. One of those tools is the ability to work through the natural feelings of anger and betrayal.
Taking this a little bit further, the continuing mental health and well-being of the unemployed is a necessary adjunct to their ability to get another job.
This is and has been an extremely difficult job market. Three years after the CDO- and derivative-fueled real estate bubble burst and brought our economy to the brink of collapse, unemployment is still running above 9%. There are an estimated 25 million unemployed, underemployed, and displaced workers who need jobs. Conservatively there are 6 people actively looking for work for every one available job.
A job seeker in this market needs to be on top of his or her game. There's no room for self doubt or depression. The slightest sign of weakness is going to get you culled from the herd of available applicants for any job. A job seeker needs to be positive, confident, assertive, self-possessed and optimistic. None of these is very likely while you still have unresolved issues regarding your former employer. In other words you've got to work through your anger to be sane, and you've got to be sane to have a chance of getting a job, especially in an employer's market.
Seen in this context, any effort on an employer's part to circumvent the natural process of healing can be viewed as unfair and injurious. Proscriptions against disparaging remarks, public or private, are deliberate attempts by employers to protect themselves from the consequences of their decisions at the expense of the very people they harm the most. It is adding insult to injury. It is kicking a man when he is already down. It is therefore objectionable. It needs to stop.
I propose a class action lawsuit on behalf of every unemployed person who has been forced to agree to place their mental health and future financial security in this kind of jeopardy in order to make it easier for their employer to fire them. It's only fair.